Annette Mattson has been on the David Douglas School Board since 1995 and is running for re-election against a little-known opponent. I'm not a resident of David Douglas, so I'm not specifically endorsing Annette. But I do think she should be re-elected, so Annette and I sat down for a chat a few days ago. We spoke about the situation facing her district and the state, and about the unique features of this Outer East Portland community. Annette's lived in David Douglas for nearly 30 years and taught me a lot about a part of the city I hardly know. Some highlights of our discussion:
David Douglas is, as she said repeatedly, "property-poor". 28% of the property in that district is not on the property tax rolls. Not only does that mean a lot of revenue is not collected, if the district is able to pass a bond measure (which becomes increasingly harder), the burden of that falls on a small number of homeowners — most of whom earn far less than the Portland median income.
If there is one thing Board Member Mattson would ask of the Legislature, it's not to act as the "super school board for the state" —
One thing that's really important in education, when you make changes or implement programs, or look at student achievement, you're looking at data and research-proven programs and approaches. Too often, the Legislature, with probably all the best intentions, gets an idea. A legislator gets an idea that we can save money if we could do this, or kids would learn more if we did that. But they've done no actuarial study, there's been no long-term research; but somebody's got an idea.
Along with the request to not have unsubstantiated programs placed upon schools, she also requests that the Legislature avoid unfunded mandates. She also spoke of the frustrating position federal funding can put a school district in:
...there are maintenance-of-effort issues tied to the IDEA funding that, unless the Secretary of Education agrees to a waiver... Yes, we've got this influx of special ed money, but even when that money goes away in two years, we'd have to maintain that same level of finance. That means you'd be cutting money out of every other program.
But despite the challenges facing David Douglas and other school districts in Oregon, she is adamant about staying involved, for one simple reason:
Education is the answer, truly, to all that ails us in the world and in society. For me, personally, it's about kids' dreams, because it gives them the tools they need to achieve them. It is about a thriving economy, because a well-educated workforce is what drives the economy and prosperity for us all. And frankly, especially in a state like ours which is income tax-dependent you need that private economy to generate the tax revenue to pay for all those wonderful programs like schools and social services. And lastly, it is truly about democracy. An educated population is what preserves democracy. It's dreams, the economy, preservation of who we are as a nation. I don't know what gets better than that.
Annette is one of many talented, compassionate and activated citizens we are blessed with here in Oregon. It's exciting to meet and get to know people like her, to hear their own words about what excites and motivates them. The problems we face seem so overwhelming at times, but the example of citizens who are doing what they can, where they are, is a tremendous means for keeping energized and hopeful. And when it comes to the long-term nature of overcoming many of the issues we face, her take on working with students is spot-on:
They're going to turn out just as well as the investment made in them by their families and by their community and by their schools.
If you're in David Douglas School District, I urge you to vote for Annette Mattson — and then call your local school to volunteer with the kids.
This is going to be your third election, right?
Actually, my fourth election. I was appointed in 95 and then I have run three times since. I had an opponent the first time; I had an opponent the second time; I did not have an opponent last time; I do have an opponent this time.
You've been on since 95, which was about the time Measure 5 was kicking in. That was probably pretty horrible.
Actually, with David Douglas, it wasn't. There were winners and losers with Ballot Measure 5. For those of us in school districts that were property-poor, it was truly a blessing. In David Douglas, for example, the accessed value per student is the lowest in the state. So when you're property-poor, it [Measure 5) was a benefit. The question around Measure 5 is, does the state indeed have a vested interest in the education of every child, or only those in property-wealthy districts? Those with a lot of money can say they were perpetuating their lifestyle. Those in poverty could also say they were perpetuating their lifestyle. Do we care about the child in Ontario as much as we care about the child in Lake Oswego?
Which is the right discussion to have, only Measure 5 was a smokescreen to cut property taxes for businesses...
... it was the wrong solution, and it was a sucker job that got passed by the three Metro counties and rejected by the rest of the state.
This, then, is obviously the most difficult situation you've faced on a school board, I'm pretty sure.
On funding, yes. This coming year or two is going to be ok for the state mostly because they were able to find the money. But I would think that what you're looking at down the road, for the next term in the school board, is probably going to be pretty tough.
State-wide, the impact ranges from slight to severe. Some school districts are looking at losing about 1/6th of their educational time. You can't eliminate reserves. Things can happen, just like at home. Your boiler can go out. Your roof can need repairing. There's so much physical infrastructure that you've got to be prepared to deal with. But school districts across the state are faced with the virtual elimination of their reserves. In the past, prior to the Legislature having any kind of educational stability fund, it truly was up to the school districts themselves to have their own rainy day funds. And some have had those. But if you're in a school district where you have declining enrollment, and, of course, we get our funding on a per-student basis, you've been dealing with less and less money. Kids don't leave in nice, little sections. You don't go, Oh now we need one less third grade teacher. You lose 3 third graders and 4 fifth graders; you can't cut one staff member because you haven't lost them in that kind of allotment.
Has anyone in in David Douglas experimented with multi-age schools? My younger son went to one in Eugene ... he was with first and second graders.
Prior to the point in David Douglas where we were bursting at the seams, we did indeed have multi-age classrooms. My children, for example, had the same teacher for first and second-grade, and then the same teacher for third and fourth, and the same teacher for fifth and sixth. That worked out very well. We built up a long-term relationship, not just my daughter with the teacher but my family with the teacher. So we then, because of the spacing of my children, having that same teacher as part of our family for four years. I think it's a wonderful model. Again, when you get to this point where you're bursting at the seams, it's not as easy to make that model work.
The reason it came to mind is that it seemed like a way to cushion the unevenness of children leaving.
Yes. In ever-declining enrollment districts, it could certainly work very well. I think it's a good educational model, too, because so much of learning is relationship-based. I know for my kids, it was especially true. For a lot of kids. For me, it works that way. It's so much about that relationship with that teacher understanding what each child's strengths are and short-comings, and you've seen her test results over periods of time, so you know where they need a little bit more help. Whether it's fractions, whether it's comprehension, whether it's pronunciation. Which aspect of learning they little bit of a boost with.
You were telling me earlier that you guys are packed, the school district's growing and growing.
What are you going to be able to do with income going down at the same time, revenues? How do you cope? What do you have on your plans for dealing with that?
Well we just completed ... We have a Citizens Advisory Committee that was looking at facilities, and we are working with an innovative facility partnership group. A couple of things we are entertaining.
We have decided, that despite the fact that we're crowded, we're retaining all-day kindergarten in David Douglas because our research has shown that kids make significant gains, especially with as many kids we have that are at-risk academically. 73% of them are free- or reduced-lunch; those are the kids who tend to struggle. Those kids are making gains in all-day kindergarten, and they're holding those gains up through 3rd grade, so we're getting them off to a good start. So despite the fact that we're packed, we're going to keep using that classroom all day long for them. We think it pays off in the long-run, no matter where that child ... whether they stay with us, whether they go elsewhere, they'll always have those gains.
The other thing we're looking at is ... Way back in the 80s, when the district had shrinking enrollment, the administrative offices were moved into the high school. We're now looking at moving those out and finding a new location for the central office, the Superintendent's office, the business functions. It's less expensive to build those kind of facilities than classrooms. It's possible, too, with all the commercial vacancies, that we could even find something to purchase or do a long-term lease. So that's part of what we're looking at.
Also on North Powellhurst, we're looking at moving more of our kindergarten classes out of our nine elementary schools and putting more kids at our kindergarten center. And trying to find out if there's another place to put our Teen Parent Program and the child care. Maybe in a home or something that is nearby the high school. The teen parents need to be able to be with their kids for their parenting classes and drop them off, but then they've the regular core classes at the high school. So they need to be in a convenient location. So if there is someplace else, we could put them there.
We have property up off Deardorf where we are hoping to build a tenth elementary school. That's the satellite (Urgan Renewal Area) annexation you may have heard the City was attempting to do. LUBA ruled against it [saying an additional item needed to be shown], the City of Portland filed their response; LUBA felt they did not sufficiently prove what they needed to do; so the ball is now back in the City's court, if they're going to appeal that or not.
We don't have the money to build another elementary school, and we need one. As I mentioned, we're property-poor. Speaker Hunt is one of the people looking at bonding for K-12, which you currently can't do in Oregon, but Washington has a program where you can, and there's something in the formula where they take into account the property-rich districts versus the property-poor and the state evens things out, so that's something I'm really interested in. That could be our answer. There is also the possibility in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, some educational facility construction dollars. This just came up in discussions, so nothing's been done on it yet but we're discussing, Is there something we can do in conversations with the City, where they could bond for that and we would pay them back over time or something?
We have record enrollment. This is the biggest David Douglas has ever been.
At just the right time.
Yea. It's challenging. In between the in-fill that's going on and a kind of recovery period... The district declined, and then we've grown. We're right next door to Portland Public, and Portland Public has had declining enrollment while we've had high growth.
Compared to what you've seen from around the state in whatever limited capacity you've had as head of the Oregon Association of School Boards...?
Oregon School Board Association.
I was close; got the right words.
Sixty years old. The largest association of elected officials in the state. 1,425 members, Board members.
How is David Douglas in comparison to what you've seen around the state?
All of the above.
We are above the state average as far as the percentage of our students that are children of color because we have 40%; statewide it's 30%. Our household incomes are below the state average. Our free- and reduced-lunch is above the state average.
Do you know what the state average is? Yours is 73....
I don't know what the statewide average is. I would bet it's going up.
Well since we've been number...
Two? Three? In unemployment? Yea.
Well, in child poverty and child hunger for years.
Our [David Douglas] reserves are in pretty good shape because we are so packed at the seams ... bursting at the seams. We're above the state average right now in our dropout rate. But I also know that we are also having 50% of our kids graduating with a B or better GPA and holding that as they go on to college because we track them in the state universities. So that's good.
One of the things -- and it's not exactly in response to your question -- but one of the things to be aware of is... Earlier you mentioned that 30% of the children in the state are children of color, only about 2% of the school board members in the state are. And that's something that the School Board Association is just beginning to ... something we want to address. We want all of our kids to be able to look at their local leadership and see people who look like them. We don't see it on city councils in most cities; we don't see it in the Legislature; but we need to start. School boards are where we can start making a difference.
Have you tried recruiting?
That's something we'll be working on. (laughs) It's .... Sometimes, it's a matter of having the conversation and suddenly realizing there are faces you don't see at the table. And we need to. We will be.
What has parental participation been like? Probably can't generalize throughout the entire school district, but....
It's been declining. So one of the folks we have right now on staff is a specialist in community involvement. She's been looking at and starting groups, starting efforts to reach out to groups that have not traditionally been involved in their children's education. Trying to find different ways when we don't have moms staying at home and then coming to PTA anymore. That's a real rarity. We actually have some volunteers, some long-time PTSA members at the high school that don't even have kids in school anymore, but they're still there, they're still involved, because they know if they weren't there, those organizations would die.
It's kind of ironic that with the largest high school in the state, we struggle to find parents who are involved. But you know, when you look at your volunteer organizations all over, whether it's the Rotary or the Elks or all these different membership organizations, a lot of them are declining. I keep hearing that the exception is Oregon, but when you've got fewer and fewer families with households with kids at home and those that are, you've got more families that are struggling and more of them where there might be a single-parent household or two parents working extra-hard to make ends meet; it's hard to find the time to come to meetings.
So we need to find other ways for parents to be involved and do it on their terms, in ways that fit their lifestyle, their priorities, their talents and their interests. To reach out to our new residents and our new immigrant families, especially in David Douglas where a quarter of our families, kids speak a language other than English at home, because that might be something where, in some cultures, parents didn't get involved with school. To welcome them in and say, This is something we would love to have you do here because we think the kids do better when their parents are involved in school. This is a good place for you to be, too.
It's a hard thing at any school. I work with homeowner associations; it's hard to get them involved in their neighborhoods. ... When we're talking about schools, it's vital that parents are involved. How do you think you're doing in terms of parents, at home, overlooking their kids' education, making sure they're studying, putting enough time on the books and not doing ... Obama's talked a little bit about this, but this is an ancient refrain from way back.
I hear all the time about how great kids in China are doing. And one of the things the Chinese government does is they actually have education efforts to parents to teach them how to be their child's first teacher. And sometimes I really wish our leaders, instead of putting out, for example, more unfunded mandates or more testing, would look at doing outreach to parents, to teach them the importance of reading and going to the library and keeping books at home and reading to their kids and talking to their kids and taking them to the zoo and instilling in them from the beginning a natural curiosity and a passion for learning. Most people love their kids, and most people want their kids to do well. A lot of it is, if you haven't been raised in a way that... Your parents didn't read to you, it's really hard to break that pattern unless somebody points out to you that, Hey your kid stands a better chance of having a happy, healthy life if they do well in school, and here are these little things you can do as a mom or dad to make sure they do that.
Do you have any programs in place to do that, or is this something, that in the midst of everything else you're trying to do, is one of those projects for the future?
We do. We have some parent nights. We recently had an African-American Parent Night, and a cultural potluck at the Kindergarten Center. We've had different [multicultural] parent nights, and our staff'll knock themselves out trying to find books in as many languages as they can so parents can come in and read to their kids in their native languages. And that's been really successful; that's been really exciting.
When you've got over 40 languages represented in your community, it's pretty tough to find them all! But we're doing the best we can. And drawing on every resource that we can, it's like trying to, um, maybe you can find a Somalian student at Warner Pacific whose willing to come over and volunteer, or some other unusual dialect. To translate, anything. Anything! Anything we can.
So try to get started with something just to, if you can have one successful event, you've made a connection with them and possibly planted the seed in enough parents to get it going forward. Not something you'll fix in a year, obviously.
No, not in a year. But you know, just this little pushes here and there. I don't remember the number ... when you're tugging on a string a little more each time, and adding one more asset and one more good experience, that over the course of time can change that child's life in a positive direction. That's what we aim for.
What's the most important thing the Legislature can do for you in the next few months?
Oh my gosh... (laughs). What's the most important thing the Legislature can do in the next few months?
For you, for David Douglas.
(pauses for thought)
I'm torn between shoring up our funding and not putting out any new unfunded mandates. Statewide, funding and mandates. In my district, the most important thing they could do is come up with a way for us to bond for facilities because we are property-poor.
And that's the kind of bonding Measure 5 has blocked?
Actually, in Oregon you can bond for community college construction, but the state can't do bonding for K-12. And so the law needs to be changed in order to do that. So that's in my district what we really need. We have two bond measures on our citizens' property tax bills right now. Our last bond measure failed. We understand it's not that people don't support their schools. They simply could not afford it. When you have lower-than-average household incomes in a property-poor district where your largest employer is a non-profit, Portland Adventist, it's a difficult combination. So for David Douglas, it would be support in building facilities. Overall statewide, although, the funding and unfunded mandates go hand-in-hand. The Federal government, what they could do for us right now, because a lot of people seem to think the problem is fixed because of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act ... However, there are maintenance-of-effort issues tied to the IDEA funding that, unless the Secretary of Education agrees to a waiver... Yes, we've got this influx of special ed money, but even when that money goes away in two years, we'd have to maintain that same level of finance. That means you'd be cutting money out of every other program.
The sort of thing Republican governors were talking about overall is an actual issue....
So then you have Title 1 money, in which you have a supplement versus supplant question, a legal definition, that again, if you add a new position with Title 1 money, you must keep that position even when Title 1 money goes away. Again, if all your other funding is decreasing, that means if you're maintaining your Title 1 and your special ed average of IDEA, which of course you want to do, but your funding has been reduced, that means your TAG programs and your kids, all your programs for kids in the middle, that's where the money comes from. Or comes out of.
So if you've got two years worth of money right now, you would add this stuff and that money would end at the same time the state budget really takes the big hit.
Or that the Federal government goes, Oops, we were able to help for two years but we can't anymore. So if you say No, to the money, you're turning down doing something good your kids need.
Even if it's short-term.
Uh-huh. And if you take it, you could be decimating your budget in the future.
tab. Lovely. Nice.
And I want you to know, I really love school board work. (laughs) I do!
Why did you run for the school board? Why are you staying on the school board? What's so wonderful about it that you're doing this instead of something else?
It is, and you hear a million times, it's absolutely ... Education is the answer, truly, to all that ails us in the world and in society. For me, personally, it's about kids' dreams, because it gives them the tools they need to achieve them. It is about a thriving economy, because a well-educated workforce is what drives the economy and prosperity for us all. And frankly, especially in a state like ours which is income tax-dependent you need that private economy to generate the tax revenue to pay for all those wonderful programs like schools and social services. And lastly, it is truly about democracy. An educated population is what preserves democracy. It's dreams, the economy, preservation of who we are as a nation. I don't know what gets better than that.
Every time I get the chance to talk to a group of kids, like at a graduation talk last year at our alternative school, Fir Ridge, where we had 35 kids graduating, and talking to them, too, about the importance of voting and being involved. So many people think government doesn't touch their lives. You know, I tell them if you drive down the street, if you turn on the water, if you flush a toilet, the government has something to do with your life. So participate. It's not a spectator sport. And I think the more people know, the more they can read, the more they understand about how the system works, the more they're going to be involved. Totalitarian governments love to keep their citizens ignorant.
Or educated in what they decide is the right thing to be educated in.
Which is, the argument could be made, that's what testing-based education can result in?
It can be. Testing certainly can be used as an evil. It can be used as a wonderful diagnostic tool where you can see for every child what aspects of reading or math they are able to understand and where they still need help. That is the ideal. It is one way of measuring that.
Are you in a position at David Douglas to utilize online resources?
Yes. In fact, we have ... Kids do use the internet as part of their classes. And of course we do have the computer labs, and the library has the multimedia. We also have online classes for credit retrieval. We require a C or better grade in all of the core classes for kids to graduate. It's beyond what the state requires. So if it's a required class and somebody's gotten a D, they the option of summer school or they have the option of taking an after-school credit retrieval and doing that online with a teacher to support them in that.
Is it possible that you can use that in terms of communication with parents? Involving parents who may not come to a meeting or any event, but they get on to the computer every night.
Yes. A couple of options. They can sign in through eSIS, which is a centralized student education resource that we have set up through Multnomah County ESD and set up a password, check their kid's grades. Any parent can also go on the website if they don't have their child's teacher's email address. Go online and check for staff, and get that email address and send them a note. That's very popular. Sometimes we have issues with phone numbers not being current in the system. Teachers have sometimes found that out when they've tried to phone homes about issues or offer encouragement.
Which is one of the things we're doing in David Douglas, positive behavior support, that program.
Parents hearing the good stuff.
Yes. The kids hearing the good stuff. Modeling, from the very beginning, modeling different behavior: This is what we do on the bus. This is what we do in the hall. This is what we do in the restroom. This is what we do in the classroom, the cafeteria. We start it out in the elementary school and move it to the middle school and now the high school. So we're tracking the data, and what we're seeing so far is that serious behavior issues are declining. It's especially important, I think, in a district where you have a number of different cultures. Our high school teachers talk about how teaching in David Douglas High School is like being in the United Nations. It's got kids from all over the world. Understanding that this is how you behave here is very important. Because you want to make sure that the kids, how things are done in their home or their culture is never criticized, but it might be different from the behavior that is expected in the classroom. So it's just showing what the culture is in this particular setting. So far, it looks like it's working. We're tracking the data.
Both my kids have been fortunate: they were with kids from around the world from the time they were two or three, their first entrance into schools. A lot of that because it was university-based, University of Oregon and PSU. But then in Corvallis, a lot of Oregon State people, too. It's made a big difference in their lives, I think, to be around people from around the world. Jesse, my younger son, his three best friends; one was Chinese-American, one was Japanese-American, one was African-American; Jesse's Scottish-American. It's that next step in social evolution that I think we're looking for, where our kids don't have a lot of our hang-ups. And to do this in school, from the earliest stages; I think along with multi-age, to have multi-ethnic schools as much as possible...
Oh yea. And I would say anyone who really wants their kid to grow up to be exposed to a wide variety of people and cultures, they should move to David Douglas and send them to school there. It's great. It is exciting.
I was just thinking back to the Legislature and what they could do. They could not try to be the Super School Board for the state. (laughs). One thing that's really important in education, when you make changes or implement programs, or look at student achievement, you're looking at data and research-proven programs and approaches. Too often, the Legislature, with probably all the best intentions, gets an idea. A legislator gets an idea that we can save money if we could do this, or kids would learn more if we did that. But they've done no actuarial study, there's been no long-term research; but somebody's got an idea.
One constituent came to them and said...
Yea. It would be really helpful if, when it's money.... For example, the proposal right now about ESD consolidation. Ok, show me the numbers to show me what the short-term costs are, the long-term savings, and how it can be done. The insurance pool a session ago was the same thing. We asked for an actuarial study. They didn't do one. The implemented it anyway. Ok, fine; that's old business. We know from the long-term research that quality early childhood education saves taxpayer dollars. There's data to prove it. We haven't put the money into it for all kids yet, but there's data to prove it. That's what really it's all about. No school board worth it's salt is going to implement programs without having data to prove it. At David Douglas we did some other districts have done, we've just put in place last year the Avid program. Again, long-term research shows it raises student achievement. Not just to the kids in the program but to the entire high school over time. That's a really worthwhile investment. We didn't just go, "Wow, this sounds great! That feels really warm and fuzzy!" No, no; what does the data say?
Well, that's the trouble with the Legislature, they have deep-sixed the Idaho Stop law for no reason other than it just didn't seem right to them. There was no thought involved; it was just this... "Bikes going through stop signs without stopping? That can't be good." Well, yea, actually it is good. It works for a lot of different reasons. It's a good thing to do. But that's the trouble with the amateur citizen part-time Legislature like we have.
I lived in Corvallis for a bit, and what was really interesting there was, the high school there was originally built in 1930-something. In the midst of the Great Depression, they voted to build a new high school. So that one went for years. But by the beginning of this decade, Corvallis High School was ready to fall in and crush every child. Plus they had to turn off all the drinking fountains, etc etc. And the citizens still turned around and they spent $84 million, they voted in 2002, 2003, I think, when Corvallis was in the crapper. And they still voted for $84 million to build a new high school, rebuild one, a new middle school. It was absolutely amazing. And part of it, I think, is you have a much higher educated population in Corvallis overall....
That tends to make a difference, those folks tend to support education.
They can still be stupid. There's nothing to guarantee that more education or income makes people smarter voters. A lot of those folks vote Republican. ... They also passed park and library bonds there. People in Corvallis... I moved there because my kids were there; I didn't want to go there. At all.
My kids both live there and love it.
I learned this. The first year, I wasn't involved in stuff. And when I got involved in things and met people, I learned a lot more . I think the reason that they're successful in some of these things is that there's a feeling of ownership of Corvallis. It's not that big; you can walk across it in half-an-hour. People feel like they're part of that community that's called "Corvallis" so they are willing to shell out the bucks. Is this that possible in this school district, in David Douglas? And if so, what do you think it takes to create the kind of feeling of community where people are willing to dig that little bit deeper? Or give that little bit extra time?
How do you do that? I think it is, and I think it happened in the 50s, 60s, 70s, when the area was first developed. In the 60s and 70s, they had some of their highest graduating classes ever, and the high school was also about 3,000 then. We're even bigger now. And record enrollment. And there was a strong sense of identity, and it was truly suburbia. A kind of different era. And then, the declining enrollment. A lot of the families stayed, but their kids were gone. And you kind of lost that sense of community there. We've started to get it back, but we've had a lot of turn-around in families, a lot of in-fill, a high percentage of people that are new, not just to the community but perhaps to the country. That's something we're definitely rebuilding.
Outer East Portland, where I live, was annexed into the City about twenty years ago. There's been probably a real loss of identity that's came as a result of that: part of Portland, but not really. Being treated for a while like we weren't really part of Portland, not getting our share of the tax dollars for infrastructure, for parks, all these things. Although we did end up with the larger share of growth and of subsidized housing. what was it? Over a period of 10 years, we absorbed 49% of the single-family housing in the city of Portland east of 82nd Avenue, over 30% of the multi-family, from 1996-2005. But with no investments to match it in infrastructure.
So as the developers came along, they put in the housing, and then the ... area ... not the City, was left to pick up the pieces?
Yes. Our enrollment boomed. We kept getting more and more subsidized housing, more and more housing off the tax rolls, more and more property came off the tax rolls during that time. And two urban renewal areas were established, which, in the long run, should help. But in the meantime, it brought us up to 28% of the property off the tax rolls.
What's the norm?
I don't know the norm for the City of Portland, but I know that back when Erik Sten was on the Council, and he got that figure, his jaw dropped. And as part of the East Portland Action Plan, that's one of the things they talked about, that we cannot take any more property off the tax rolls. Then again, with a bond measure, it ends up right smack on the remaining homeowners. A higher tax bill on lower-than-average household incomes.
The city-wide average is around $39,000, $42,000; right in there. And the average in David Douglas is about $32,000 per year per household? It's not that you're not supportive. Simply, you gotta buy food. When you look at some of the stats [begins going through large stack of papers] ... I just saw some numbers I was looking at last night for ... our household incomes in David Douglas .... We only have 1% of our families have an income over $100,000; that is certainly below average. [Note: Annette corrected this later: it's 7%.]
Not a place the rich people move to.
It used to be. This is one of the reasons I'm so happy about Jefferson Smith having moved to our community and being a David Douglas resident, and living in HD 47, is that our voter participation has only once broken 54%. When you don't vote, your community's elected officials don't pay attention. And that was in 2002, when we hit 54%. So we've got to turn that around, and we've got to rebuild that sense of community. The long-term residents of David Douglas do have a strong sense of pride of community. In all of the outer East Portland, you're going to see that: Parkrose, the other areas. A lot of pride. We instill that same sense of community and reach out to our newer residents, and make them feel as welcome as we feel.
I've always felt that living in David Douglas was the best of being in a small town and the best of being in a city. I can go around and always run into people I know, in the grocery store and all over. I can go out for walks, ride my bike, and see people I know. But I still have the wonderful situation of being in a large city like Portland, where you have all the advantages. I grew up on a farm outside of a small town, so that kind of familiarity is something I like. When I moved to Portland, I missed that. And then I discovered David Douglas, and I found that perfect balance between the two. I really, really enjoy it. I did have someone ask me once, and I was explaining some of the concerns of the community, some of the challenges with the school district, and the question came up, "So why do you live there?" And I said, It's where I'm needed. We need more activists in Outer East Portland. We need more people like our neighborhood association folks, school board members, people like me, people like Jefferson Smith. His first town hall, the one you were at, that was the biggest town hall I have ever seen in my community, and I have lived in David Douglas since 1980. See, it's starting. It's happening, and we're going to get it back. And we're going to get an activated, engaged community again.
The three people that were elected in East Multnomah, Jefferson, Nick Kahl and Greg Matthews, they're all younger, they all value community, they are all active and understanding; and the way they got elected was not by ... well, Jefferson doesn't really count....
Because he ran unopposed and won the Republican...
Well his father told me he thinks he didn't have an [Republican] opponent because I was on his campaign committee. (laughs) I think that's an exaggeration.
With Greg, it took significant grassroots support.
Yes, it did.
A lot of that came from other parts of Portland, but a lot of it was home-grown. You are absolutely right on that: the one thing ... and I'm trying to think of the right way to ask this ... what the Legislature can do, what other government groups can do, but what can ... When you look around as a school board member and you see all that happened last year, especially the excitement around Obama and a lot of the people who were excited about Hillary earlier in the year, the people who got out there and worked for Merkley and Novick, just all over the state...
Merkley's my constituent. David Douglas grad, class of 74, yes! And Nick Kahl is a David Douglas grad, also.
I knew he was from the area, I didn't know what school...
His father still lives there, yes.
What would you like to see from the people who were so involved in electing Obama, electing Merkley, electing Jefferson, Nick and others like that last year? What would you like to see them doing now?
I would like to see them really engaged in their communities' schools, because there is no better place for them to invest their time, whether it's running for school board or serving on citizens advisory committees or being a SMART reader or being a lunch buddy or a volunteer coach, something like that. When you're investing your time in education and with kids, it is, in my mind, the best possible thing to do.
You think about all those people who put all those hours into those campaigns. What if they took half the time they spent going door-to-door? What if they took one lunch hour a week and spent it with a kid in as a lunch buddy? There are big ways to change the world and policy, and there's also these ... by putting someone into the national spotlight like our new president, and that's great, because the people at the top make a difference. But that child you're sitting across from, whether it's reading them a book or sharing a lunch or teaching them how to kick a ball in soccer; that kid might just be that next president. You get the chance to make a difference. That is really, really important. I think that President Obama has talked about the need for us all to volunteer, help out and make our communities a better place. Working with kids is a way to do.
And teenagers are another way. All these mentor programs are just dying for more volunteers and fore more people to serve as mentors for kids. Big Brothers, Big Sisters, all of those. Oasis is another program for people over fifty to serve as, like, math tutors, that sort of thing, with high school students. Those are great places to be.
It's never a wasted minute when you're spending it with a kid. Never.
It's just not my kids. My kids are really fortunate. Education and learning came really easily to them, both girls. They're smart and they've been blessed with a gift for learning. So when I got involved, it wasn't for my kids as much as it was for all those kids who didn't have anybody who cared. The kids on the outside, the kids who maybe couldn't make it in the traditional classroom. They needed an alternative setting. They needed a teen parent program. They needed an extra hand. But really, the reason I stay, is they're all, all of our kids. Every one of them. And they're all going to share the world with my kids. They're all going to share the world with me, and I don't know of a single one of them we can afford to lose. I'm still there, you know... I want another four years in serving David Douglas because there's still so much work to do. I'll never retreat from volunteer work of some kind, because there's so much that needs to be done. An education ... It's so important.
My mom died a year-and-a-half ago. My brother and sister and I sat down and were talking about her, it suddenly hit us why we do what we do. And it was because of the example our mother set. She did it differently. She was never going to do policy. She was never going to coach and stuff. She was a nurse by education. She was first at a city hospital, then a county hospital, and then a school nurse. Through it all, she taught Sunday School, she volunteered at the Red Cross, she picked up kids to take them to vacation Bible school because we lived on a farm out in the country. She brought rice pudding to new moms and to people who had just maybe lost a family member. She always took the time to call people and send them cards on their birthdays and send them letters and just let them know that she cared. It wasn't for gain or glory or gratitude. It was because she could.
So what does my sister up and do? She becomes an election judge in Minnesota, and she works as a financial advisor in a county social services department in the poorest county of that whole five-state area. My brother is a teacher. He coaches; he teaches PE and coaches sports at high school for kids with special needs. Kids with disabilities, mental and physical. He coaches the girls hockey team. And I do all this school board stuff. The three of us, as different as we are, cannot imagine our lives without giving back. If everybody did that, especially when it came to kids, can you imagine this world in twenty years?
Even in one.
Yea, it would be pretty amazing. It would be. It's just ... They are such a gift. They truly are. They're going to turn out just as well as the investment made in them by their families and by their community and by their schools.
Absolutely. That possibly is the understanding that people miss. They do a calculus, but they leave out the factor of ... we get back what we give to them, what we invest in our children. They do that wrong. I don't think a lot of people understand how that, quote-unquote, math works.
If we could just even, if they would just look at the research ... High-quality pre-K for kids: then... Can you all see the difference here? Looking for every dollar spent here, the 3-27 dollar payback because kid's who have high-quality pre-K are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to get college degrees, more likely to be homeowners, less likely to end up in prison, less likely to dropout. All those things. Actually one of the best stories I've heard about it, the new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, spoke at the National School Board Association Conference earlier this month. He grew up in a very high-crime, high-poverty area of Chicago. But his mother started a quality pre-school program for kids in that neighborhood. And from that neighborhood there are people like him, and there's doctors, and there's lawyers, and there's judges. This, again, he talked about, was high-crime, high-violence and yet, because the community valued education, and took care of those kids when they were little, it was very different.
If you've ever heard Desmond Tutu speak, which I've had the pleasure, the blessing of twice in my life, growing up under apartheid, terrible schools where kids were packed into churches. They had outhouses; they had only the food they brought with them. They had maybe occasional pencils and paper and books. And again, they came out of that doctors and lawyers because of the emotional investment and the passion people had for education, instilling the value of that in those kids.
They didn't have the resources but they still educated.
Absolutely. Did not have physical resources but they had passion and care and instilled that value at an early age. And as much as in education we talk about the money, and granted, that sure helps; it's the passion of our teachers, our administrators, our board members, our parents and our community will make the biggest difference in how much kids will achieve.
So as the kids see the community getting involved in their schools, that's possibly the number one thing they need, is just to see themselves surrounded by a community that cares about their school, whatever the condition of the school and the books are?
That cares about their education, cares about their learning. And again, instills that passion for learning and that curiosity. Learning how to read, learning that someone cares whether you got your homework done and lets you know that you're smart. Kids know, that when they go to their school or if it's an after-school tutoring program, a homework club; gosh, those are important. Especially in your high-poverty schools, they make a difference. Extended learning opportunities. They understand that they're smart....
I like that, too!
That's the thing, too: There's so many ways to make a difference, but that's one of those ways, if people would volunteer more with after-school programs, assist with the homework clubs, too. Supporting our teachers through professional development. I just saw some stats in the last couple of weeks. If you're going to take classroom dollars and invest it, the biggest hit you get for student achievement is with professional development for teachers. More than classroom size and anything else. I really care about that; I know that President Obama has talked about the high rate of attrition you normally find in high-poverty districts, like 30, 40%; by the book, David Douglas is classified as "high-poverty". Our attrition rate is 6% a year. I want to believe that's because we support our teachers and let them know they're important. Which may be why the teacher's union endorsed me!
By T.A. Barnhart
May 03, 2009
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